I’ve attended nearly every General Synod of the United Church of Christ since 1985. For me, it feels like a sort of family reunion, as UCCers from across the nation–joined by international and ecumenical guests, Council for Health & Human Service Ministries partners, exhibitors, and more–gather for worship, witness, work, and play. There’s always been at least one moment in each Synod I’ve experienced when I am moved to unexpected tears, a sudden wash of the Spirit overtaking me.
At this General Synod, that moment came during our debate on a resolution entitled “Actively Affirming the Human Dignity of Transgender and Nonbinary Persons.” A transgender teenager stepped up to the microphone to advocate for our passage of the resolution and offered very personal and powerful testimony. Through a flood of tears, they said: “There is nowhere safe for me in the world these days. I need the UCC to be my one safe place.”
There it was. That Spirit-filled moment. A pleading, painfully honest voice reminding me that it all matters. It matters that we proclaim ourselves an open and affirming church of extravagant welcome, and it matters even more when we clearly live out that claim. It matters that we counter the hate and legislative violence against LGBTQ+ persons with steadfast, unwavering love. It might even matter that we pass countless resolutions on so many different social issues, if only to allow space for such clarity of witness and for such voices to be heard.
Several days later, I was standing in the pulpit at Associated Church in Owatonna, one of our congregations that fairly recently voted to become Open and Affirming. On that day, the church was hosting the community’s first ecumenical worship service as part of a full day of Pride events. I’d been asked to offer a bit of moral support for this church that had been experiencing some harassment in the community, and some words of welcome and prayer in worship. I lifted words that are for me simply a testimony of faith: “We gather today, here in this place of worship, to bear witness that LGBTQ+ persons are precious in God’s sight, beloved by God, and full of an inherent dignity and worth that no one can take away.” As I spoke, I noticed a young person sitting near the back of the sanctuary, dressed in rainbow hues, dissolving into tears. I wondered if that was the first time they had ever heard someone say what they most needed to hear, that God loves them, just as they are?
This witness we offer as the United Church of Christ–this Good News we proclaim of a God of bold love and inclusion, hope and mercy–matters so very much. There’s likely someone in your community right now who needs to see that witness lived out in you, to hear your congregation’s welcome and inclusion and be assured of God’s big embracing love.
So go and share it. Offer it in every way and every space you can. It matters.
Reverend Shari Prestemon